Snowdrops, crocus and daffodils can be spotted in bloom this week. Those early flowering bulbs may be small, but they are welcome signs of spring and easy to grow in most landscapes.
These fall-planted bulbs need a few months of winter chill to put them into the blooming mood. The good news for Western Washington gardeners is that our climate allows color-seeking gardeners to buy potted, blooming bulbs from the nursery right now to add to the garden for instant gratification and years of perennial color.
Bring them home, slide the bulbs, soil and roots out of the pot and plant the blooming color into any well-drained site in the garden. You can even leave the potted bulbs in their containers, bury them a bit into the potting soil of your empty porch or patio pots and enjoy container gardens that bloom with early spring color.
Once the spring flowers fade, simply transfer the bulbs from the pots into the landscape for years of more spring bloom.
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Do you think you don’t have room for early bloomers in your garden? Think about our pollinators and think again. Pollinators include birds, bees, butterflies and moths that all need the nectar of flowers this time of year for the energy it takes to pollinize the plants and keep us humans alive.
Hummingbirds may be the divas of the pollinator crowd, but native bees and night-flying moths also are doing their part to create new life.
Here are some great plants to add to your landscape that attract and feed pollinators:
Lungwart or Pulmonaria: Ugly name, pretty plant. This early blooming perennial prefers shade but will adapt to sun. The blue-gray foliage is spotted and attractive. In early spring, the small bell-shaped blooms appear in shades of blue fading to pink with some varieties flowering white or salmon. Humming birds and bees dip into the blossoms with gusto so adding just a few pulmonaria to your garden will create a hum from all the pollinators in the neighborhood.
Ribes, Currant or Gooseberry: All are members of the same family. Some ribes are native shrubs in Western Washington. Those plants flower with lovely, dangling clusters that create rumbles in bumble bees and hummingbirds.
Many birds love the summer berries, but it is the humming birds that benefit most when you add a pink or red blooming currant shrub to your landscape. You won’t need to keep your artificial feeder filled to get the hummers fighting over a food supply and putting on a show. If you add native huckleberries to the mix you just might entice the hummingbirds to collect some moss and spider webs and construct a tiny nest to dangle from the branches of these underused shrubs.
Sarcococca or Sweet Box: The winter flowering evergreen shrub comes in several sizes — from a petite dwarf under two feet tall (Sarcococca humilis) to a more robust version (Sarcococca ruscifolia) that can be used as a hedge. The big news here is that Sweet Box thrives in the deepest, darkest shade so it can provide tidy evergreen structure on the north side of a house where moisture collects and moss likes to grow. Plant vanilla-scented Sarcococca and you may never notice the tiny white blossoms that appear in February. But you will never forget the strong, sweet fragrance and the many thanks from the grateful pollinating bees and moths.
Forsythia: The bright yellow blooms on this upright woody shrub will never be called subtle. The flowers appear before the foliage, creating a mass of sunshine color that alerts the pollinators from miles around.
You can buy forsythia shrubs dirt cheap as bare root plants but don’t invest in a large specimen. Any forsythia will become a large specimen in just a few years if left unpruned. The smart location for this winter bloomer is someplace in the background where it can grow wild and free and never need pruning.
A location where it gets at least half a day of sun will force it into flower, but the garden gossip on forsythia is that she does not age gracefully. Once the bloom of spring has sprung, this long-lived shrub will spend the summer looking dowdy and a bit unkempt. Keep this in mind when choosing a location.